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· Engendering the Science of Style ·

Israeli scientists have had some success in quantifying differences between men's and women's writing styles recently. "Imagine, for a second," writes Clive Thompson in the Boston Globe (7/6/03), "that no byline is attached to this article. Judging by the words alone, can you figure out if I am a man or a woman?"

I was intrigued by Thompson's "He and She: What's the Real Difference?" because, in A Writing Teacher's Blog last June, John Lovas properly identified me as a male writer, "based on tones." But Thompson's piece identifies yet other criteria. Moshe Koppel, Anat Shimoni, and Shlomo Argamon of Israel's Bar-Ilan University, Thompson writes, "found that the single biggest difference is that women are far more likely than men to use personal pronouns — 'I', 'you', 'she', 'myself', or 'yourself' and the like. Men, in contrast, are more likely to use determiners — 'a,' 'the,' 'that,' and 'these' — as well as cardinal numbers and quantifiers like 'more' or 'some.'"

Naturally and properly, I was intrigued by Thompson's article. So trying their test informally on my own "This" Again — Thoreau "Revised," I concluded, to my surprise, that I was perhaps more like a woman there. But then again, since I identified "my wife" as "such a wife," maybe I'm a man, too. After all "this is," as Thoreau writes, my "father tongue," by "heroic," readerly revision.

Well, I'll let you decide. By the way, if you need more science on such matters, I'd suggest Hara Marano's fine Psychology Today article, The New Sex Scorecard. Some of you might even care to run "Hara" through the Israeli style-cruncher. Obviously, I'll have more to say on this theme.


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